Feelings at work

Feelings at work

It sometimes seems we are not supposed to have feelings at work. We are just supposed to focus on the task at hand, work hard and get on with it. Concentrating on the task is not realistic; people have feelings at work. When things aren’t working well, we feel bad, find it hard to think, and do silly things that make things worse. Just expressing how we feel and listening to each other can help us feel better and perform better.

Here are two real stories that show the power of sharing feelings at work.

The failing SAPS project

A director had less than a day to bring together key people in the implementation team of a substantial SAPS project and turn it around. They came from the US and Europe, and there had been delays, technical and cultural difficulties, frustration, conflict and bad feeling, and the project was in serious trouble. It would have cost millions to cancel it and start again.

He thought that everybody involved was feeling bad. After talking to me, he asked them how they felt about the project at the team meeting. Initially, there was silence, so he waited patiently. Then one person said she was fed up, and soon everybody said how they felt, fed up, scared, demotivated, angry and sad. He then asked them if they wanted to go on feeling that way. They said “No”!

After this, the people worked together well, and the project succeeded.

The blocked wage negotiation

Union and Management negotiations were stuck. Progress was painfully slow, and the lead manager had had enough. He decided he must do something different to break the deadlock.

At the next meeting, he asked everybody to say a few words about how they felt about the negotiation. They said they were fed up, exasperated, frustrated, sad and bored. After an hour, they still had two hours to return to the negotiation. They made more progress in those two hours than they had in the previous two months.

Sharing feelings in one-to-one situations

The most powerful thing we can do to connect with another person is to be authentic. You can do this without blaming. Just state how you feel and what you want. For instance, you may find working with a colleague or boss frustrating. You could say, “Jack, I find the way we work together frustrating. Would you be willing to discuss how we might work together better?” Then, keep quiet and be attentive, and your colleague will respond.


You can’t think well when you feel bad. When you share your feelings, they disperse and lose their power. Anyone can initiate a conversation where people can express what they feel. You don’t have to be the boss or ask for permission. It can make an enormous difference.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick